University of Manitoba approves Facebook-free elections

WINNIPEG (CUP) — The University of Manitoba Students’ Union has prohibited candidates from using Facebook to gain support for their general election campaigns.

The supplementary rule were approved by the UMSU this month at a council meeting, where a handful of members expressed their dissatisfaction with the decision.

Some thought that election campaign methods should reflect the growing and changing methods of media, which includes social online networking. Others expressed that the use of Facebook would not give any party an unfair advantage, as all candidates have access to computers on campus.

The supplementary rules were first drafted by the election’s chief returning officer (CRO), Jason van Rooy. After discussion and amendments, the union’s campaigning committee agreed upon them, and they were then ratified by the UMSU council members.

Despite concerns by a number of councillors during the meeting, the motion to accept the supplementary rules package was passed.

Van Rooy said the main reason he proposed the Facebook-campaigning ban is because its privacy settings make it so that his office is unable to ensure that only approved materials are being used in campaigning.

The students’ union’s bylaws state that the school’s elections need to be “fair and safe, and free of slander, racism and homophobia,” said van Rooy.

There is a distinct possibility that rules would easily be broken without anyone responsible for monitoring the election finding out until significant damage had already been done to another campaign.”

The question of candidates taking advantage of loopholes has come up, though the CRO said that this is the case with any rule that could be put into place.

I have endeavoured to make these rules as comprehensive as possible, so that candidates and sides are as well informed as to what is acceptable and what is not as they possibly can be.”

However, he hopes that candidates will not try to “manipulate the system,” and will campaign fairly.

Last year, similar rules were set in place banning the use of Facebook. However, according to Van Rooy, a supposed third party had created a Facebook page, which resulted in the then-CRO allowing Facebook usage for both sides for the last several days of the election.

Adam Cousins, who ran for UMSU president last year, said, “if last year’s campaign proved anything, it’s that the CRO cannot effectively control the use of the Internet.”

Facebook and other social networking websites, said Cousins, “are too powerful to see use in UMSU elections.”

He said he filed many complaints to the then-CRO about another campaign group using Facebook so that the CRO would take action against it.

What (the previous CRO) did was open Facebook to all sides instead of penalizing the eventual winners. Their prior Facebook use was something that my side could never recover from,” said Cousins.

Sid Rashid, current UMSU president, said that last year, Facebook was off-limits until the day before voting, when the CRO determined that a third-party Facebook page was being used as a front group in support of a slate, leading to a ruling that it would be open to all candidates in the election.

In last year’s election, Rashid said he advocated for Facebook to be used because he felt it was a good way to encourage students to get involved in their campus community.

Personally, I still believe that Facebook is a good tool for communicating with students, and in theory it would be an asset to elections of any kind,” said Rashid. “That being said, I do understand the reasoning behind this decision and I respect the ruling of the CRO.”

The use of other online methods to reach a mass amount of people, such as sending mass emails, is also being monitored this year.

// Samantha Lockhart
The Manitoban

Enjoy it? Share this on Facebook


© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: